Wait a minute, Morgan!
Before the car is completely stopped in front of the school, my 10-year-old daughter has flung open the door and is out so quickly, I have only enough time to holler, "Try to have a good day!"
Whew. This parting was much easier than I expected. It's been a rough morning.
I got back from my trip late last night, we woke up late, the pants she wanted to wear are dirty, and the souvenir necklace she couldn't wait to show in class broke at breakfast.
I watch Morgan walk alone across the grass. Little brother Ty has already run ahead, but I don't hear the usual cry of "Wait for me!" Although her ponytail bobs with each step, her hesitant back and shoulders suggest that she's not quite ready to begin this day. But she is trying. And the unexpectedness of this bravery catches at my heart, since I fully expected her, this morning of all mornings, to surpass herself in the clingy department.
Eleven years ago when I had just two placid children, life was easy and predictable. Other children would throw tantrums in the grocery store or be dragged home from the park, heels dug in and screaming like sirens, and I would shake my head wondering what was wrong with the parents. Why couldn't they control their child? Then we decided to have another one.
Morgan arrived squawking and hasn't stopped since. She frets over everything from the tightness of her ponytail to the possibility of nuclear meltdowns, from the rising crime rate to the speed at which her cold cereal gets soggy. She demands spaghetti when hamburgers are served and hamburgers when dinner is spaghetti, while our efforts toward calmness and reason merely bounce off her bright, stubborn surface.
Her fourth-grade year, with higher teacher expectations and more responsibility, has been difficult. A rotating class schedule, working with several teachers, timed math tests, and recess with 5th graders have all been new things to worry about. Many nights at home, with tired eyes and a whiny voice, she complains of stomachaches.
Leaving childhood for a more grown-up world is frightening. Her life is changing whether she likes it or not.
I watch and wait in the car, knowing only too well what would happen if I drove off before she was in the door. (I learned that lesson the second week of kindergarten when Morgan chased me, crying, for a full block because I had driven away too soon.) She reaches the sidewalk and walks quickly now, no turning back.
Wait, no wave? I'm surprised both at her show of maturity, and this unforeseen pang I feel. Where is the little girl who would hug me tightly for too long and beg me to walk her to class?
Morgan opens the heavy school door by herself and greets a girl I don't know. Talking together, they walk in. Not once does she turn around.
Wait a minute! I braced myself this morning for the familiar Miss Clingy and suddenly Miss Mature appears out of nowhere. I certainly want Morgan to become independent, but I also thought the process would be gradual.
Like years, maybe.
I turn the car around and head to work. Is this new Morgan for real? I ask myself.
She's just pretending; playing dress-up, right? Today she tried on that scary garment called "growing up," and maturity rests on her vulnerable little frame like a bulky, too-large coat. I am as unused to seeing her clothed in independence as she must be unused to wearing it.
And it dawns on me that dependence requires two, even if one is an unwilling parent. For 10 years, we've travelled together her scary, perilous road.
We've shared the dangers I tried to downplay and the trials I tried to lighten. We've faced her life together; a team. Perhaps a dysfunctional team, but together nonetheless.
As much as I've complained and wished she'd change, I must be accustomed to us as we are. I'm surprised to find that at this point, on this morning, I'm the one who's clinging.
I laugh at myself for this about-face. Must not be as ready for her to grow up as I thought.
Wait for me, Morgan! I call to her in my mind.
The needy child I know may be back tomorrow, and I quietly thank the Lord for all the tomorrows ahead of us. We still have time - for her to grow into maturity and for me to rejoice in the strong, independent person I can help her to become.
Just not too fast, please?
Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.